Considering Mike Bertoni will be the fifth head coach over the last four years, stability obviously has been an issue within the Riverside-Brookfield wrestling program. Armed with a handful of experienced grapplers and several promising underclassmen, Bertoni and the Bulldogs are eager to set RB back on track for the long haul.
“We’re trying to teach these kids about team unity and making a commitment to bettering yourself and your teammates,” said Bertoni, who wrestled along with RB football coach Jason Rech on Mt. Carmel’s three state title teams in the 1990s. “They have high spirits about what we’re trying to do, and I’ve seen improvement already.”
Bertoni points to captains Danny Russell (132-pound class) and Vincenzo Zaccagnini (145) along with fellow juniors Joey Odeh (182) and Mark Schraidt (160) as the Bulldogs’ leaders. Nicknamed “Danimal” for his toughness on the mat, Russell is a role model for the Bulldogs’ younger wrestlers, while Zaccagnini (4-2 this season) is a returning regional champion. Odeh, who emerged this fall as solid wide receiver on the RB football team, is off to a fast 4-2 start in wrestling.
While Bertoni is still tinkering with the RB lineup and expects several wrestlers to drop some weight, other wrestlers in the mix are: Julio Reyes (113), Andrew Misiorowski (120), Joe Sandora (126), Antonio Ochoa (138), Nick Misiorowski (152), Mike Reeze (170) and Jacob Bergmann (195). The Bulldogs also hope to welcome back freshman Nick Giurini, who suffered a torn ACL during football season, later this season. Bertoni described Giurini as extremely talented.
“Right now, I’m just trying to get the team comfortable around me and each other,” Bertoni said. “I think we can win our [Metro Suburban] conference. Our program has the potential to grow and experience success in the future.”
While RB figures to battle rival/defending champion Fenton for the conference championship, a tough nonconference schedule will also test the relatively young Bulldogs. RB will compete in the Buffalo Grove and Oak Park invitationals, which annually feature some of the top teams in the state.
“We have a tough schedule, one that’s similar to last year,” Bertoni noted. “We’ll wrestle some bigger [Class] 3A schools, but I think it will help us. Competing in big tournaments will give us a good idea of where we are as a program.”
After dropping a 61-7 decision against Morton in their season opener, the Bulldogs won two of five dual matches at the Jacobs invite over the weekend. RB defeated Larkin and North Chicago at Jacobs.
RB hosts a quad meet on Saturday (9 a.m.) and then welcomes Nazareth and Guerin for a 5 p.m. home triangular on Dec. 9.